Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Survival of the Patriachies

Philip Longman (author of The Empty Cradle, which has been on my read list for a while now -- though the dang library doesn't have it) wrote an article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine title The Return of Patriarchy. (Thanks to the Power Behind The Throne for pointing out that it's now available online.)

Longman's thesis in the article (one which should hardly be novel to longtime readers around here) is that the world is currently going through a transitional period where the majority of people in many advanced cultures have lost interest in rearing children while a small minority of people who are religious and 'patriarchal' will provide the majority of the next few generations. Longman cites previous examples of points in history where the elites under-bred themselves out of existence: notably Hellenistic Greece and Imperial Rome. In neither case did civilization collapse (and I can't imagine that it will now) but in both cases an elite which had become sufficiently wealthy and individualistic to lose interest in breeding was gradually replaced by immigrants and a 'middle class' which still retained an instinctual hold on what humans are: a species that needs to reproduce if it is to survive.

Our current situation is, however, unique in that modern birth control has made it much easier for a much larger portion of the population to opt out of the circle of life. (No one has yet found a cure for mortality, so for these the circle of life has instead become a one way trip to eternity.) The demographic results are fairly spectacular. Of the women born in the 1950s (its a good group to measure because they came of age in the 60s and 70s and are now past their childbearing years) nearly 20% have never had children. (By comparison, the childless percentage of the generation of women born in the 20s was under 10%.) An additional 17.4% of the women from the 50s generation had only one child, thus producing only 7.8% of the next generation. Meanwhile, the 11% of '50s generation women who had four or more children produced about 25% of the next generation.

Longman is himself (so far as I can tell from what I've read) pretty much a social and political liberal, so his feelings about the facts he presents are pretty mixed:
This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism. Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry. It may also help to explain the increasing popular resistance among rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify themselves as "world citizens" are also those least likely to have children.

Does this mean that today's enlightened but slow-breeding societies face extinction? Probably not, but only because they face a dramatic, demographically driven transformation of their cultures. As has happened many times before in history, it is a transformation that occurs as secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, and as people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default.
However, Longman doesn't allow himself to fall into thinking of 'patriarchy' as a dark Taliban-like force. Indeed, he argues that when patriarchy becomes misogynistic it loses it's effectiveness, because the mistreatment of women destroys one of patriarchy's greatest strengths: joining the desires of both men and women in a common urge to rear a large and successful next generation to carry on the family name and fortune.

Longman doesn't speculate on why it is that traditional religion produces a fertile society while secular individualism tends to produce a demographic tailspin, but it seems to me the answer follows pretty naturally from Longman's observations. Traditional religion and secular individualistic society present radically different ideas of what the human person is and why it is on this earth. However, of the two, that held by traditional religion more accurately reflects what the human species is, and so results in reproductive success.

This is not to say that individualism doesn't have anything going for it. We are all individuals, with thoughts, desires, aspirations, needs and feelings. However, as individuals, we are members of the human species, and as such, we are born, we attain the ability to reproduce, we age, and we die. This is not to say that every individual person must, to fulfill the reason for their existence, reproduce. However, it is certainly the purpose of any given generation of humans to produce and rear the next generation. We are generation creatures, and without a next generation, we are a dead end. And the necessity of producing the next generation does mean that most men and women must be fathers and mothers, and that they must produce enough offspring to make up for those members of the current generation who do not reproduce.

In our current highly individualistic society, that sense of generational duty seems to have been somewhat dulled -- in some segments of society more than others. And it is, thus, from those parts of society where the most awareness of our nature as generational beings has been retained, that the next generation will come.

The question mark in all this is, of course, whether the fact that the majority of the members of the next few generations may be from 'patriarchal' families will mean that those children will go on to hold a patriarchal worldview themselves. Longman touches briefly on the question:

To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents' values, as always happens. But when they look around for fellow secularists and counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.

1 comment:

big tex said...

Of those 20% of women born in the 50's that never had children... I wonder how many of them went into religious life. Knowing that they were reared in the 60's & 70's, I suspect that it wasn't a large portion.